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Tora! Tora! Tora! (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
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194 of 205 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2004
I first saw Tora! Tora! Tora! (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! in Japanese) in 1974, when I was 20 years old on Atlanta's Channel Two. As strange as this may sound, I have always liked movies about World War II. My stepfather had served in the Navy during the war and in fact he had joined the service shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which is the subject of this 2 hour and 25 minute-long Japanese-American 1970 production.
This movie was directed by several directors including Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasuka, but the American version (yes, there is a Japanese version) gives the credit to veteran director Richard Fleischer. Based on Gordon W. Prange's "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and Ladislas Farago's "The Broken Seal", the film accurately depicts the events on both sides of the Pacific leading up to the stunning attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet on Sunday, December 7, 1941.
Even though it covers an 18-month period between Admiral Yamamoto's (Soh Yamamura) initial planning for Operation Hawaii and the attack itself, Tora! Tora! Tora! (the title refers to the code used to inform the Japanese that the Americans had been caught by surprise) never drags or seems dull. I learned, for instance, that Japanese Ambassador Nomura was a skilled and honorable diplomat who did not know what his country's military leaders were planning, and that he hoped to avoid war. I was also stunned by how General Walter C. Short (Jason Robards) was so preoccupied by the threat of sabotage from Hawaii's 125,000 Japanese inhabitants that he foolishly parked all the bombers and fighters in Hickam and Wheeler Fields in neat rows, supposedly to make them easier to guard but actually making them sitting ducks.
What amazed me about watching this movie is how clueless Pearl Harbor's defenders were on that Sunday morning. Though many people think the first shot of the Pacific War was fired by the Japanese, it was actually fired by the USS Ward on a Japanese midget submarine trying to sneak into the harbor. This happened roughly an hour before the first bomb fell on Battleship Row. I would have thought that the report of an unknown submarine being fired upon in a restricted area would have alerted the whole fleet. Wrong! American officers in Oahu were so certain that the Japanese would be spotted long before they could launch a strike that Captain James Earle (Richard Anderson) asks for confirmation before he tells his superiors. This does not make Adm. Husband E. Kimmel (Martin Balsam) very happy and I thought he was very angry that the Ward's initial report did not reach him in time.
The movie makes clear to the audience that history often hinges on small but significant details. Who would have thought that the fate of two great nations would be decided by a diplomat's slow typing speed, or that a report of a large radar blip off to the north of Oahu would be received with the phrase, "Well, don't worry about it."? It sounds like bad fiction but everything in this movie is based on historical fact.
Tora! Tora! Tora! has incredible battle scenes. Most of the aerial scenes were shot using either vintage planes or realistic replicas (because there are no flying Zero fighters, T-28 Texans were modified to look like the famous Japanese planes). The Navy actually allowed 20th Century-Fox to film in and around Pearl Harbor and rented a World War II era carrier that was to be decommissioned to serve as a stand in for the Japanese carrier. Clever editing, good miniature effects and carefully built live action sets give the illusion that one is actually reliving the Day of Infamy.
The 60th Anniversary Special Edition DVD was released around the same time as 2001's Pearl Harbor. It features an all new 20-minute documentary, director's commentary, the orginal theatrical trailer, and restores the movie to its original widescreen format. It has four audio tracks (English 4.1, the commentary, English Dolby Surround, French Mono), and subtitles in English and Spanish.
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332 of 357 people found the following review helpful
I'm not a big war-movie buff any more (THE SEARCH FOR PRIVATE RYAN cured me) but this is a worthwhile film if you have an interest in WWII. TORA! TORA! TORA! is a documentary-type film. Think of it as a Stephen Ambrose book recorded live. The film is neither a glorified fifties war-film (IN HARMS WAY, BATTLE OF THE CORAL SEA), nor is it a Viet Nam noir-war film (PLATOON, THE DEER HUNTER). (Neither of which are particularly authentic.)
TORA! TORA! TORA! recreates war from the perspective of news correspondent-participant-observer. The story is presented from both the Japanese and American viewpoints and it is presented like a History Channel film.
It took the film crew several months to film TORA! TORA! TORA! I was living in Navy housing on Pearl Harbor at the time and a number of our friends and acquaintences found part-time jobs acting in the film. "Real" military pilots in-between rounds in Viet Nam flew some of the planes (this was 1969).
Much of the architecture in Honolulu was vintage WWII era or earlier and the rest of the island was relatively unchanged from the 1940s. The terrain looked very much as it had when my father-in-law passed through on his way to Guadalcanel and later Iwo Jima.
I cannot tell you the names of the aircraft (my husband could) but I was told that they used real aircraft from the period including the P40s the U.S. flew and the captured Zeros the Japanese flew. We drove up to Schoffield Barracks to look at the old airplanes lined up row on row. During the filming, one of these old planes crashed in a sugar cane field and burned up before the pilot could be rescued. The daily flights overhead, the real crashes, the reenactment of the destruction in the harbor, the daily flights in and out of Hickam as men and material destined for Viet Nam left and wounded and dead arrived--was all very weird.
Well, this is an excellent film. The new PEARL HARBOR relies on all sorts of technology, but if you want to see how Hawaii really looked in 1941 and how the planes really looked, and how the crews really looked, and obtain some sense of how terrifying it was to be in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 this is the film to see.
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158 of 175 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2011
I feel that the release by 20th Century Fox of the Japanese cinema version of Tora! Tora! Tora! on Blu-ray and with an additional ten minutes of Japanese produced scenes warrants further attention directed largely at its historical content. The Blu-ray is noticeably darker and the grain heavier in scenes such as the Japanese aircraft launch from the flagship Akagi in the pre-dawn of December 7.

Tora! Tora! Tora! is a gripping and mostly accurate account of Japan's treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and the events that preceded it. Fox intended that the film would be both historically accurate and balanced. To achieve that balance, Fox arranged for American and Japanese producers and directors to film their accounts of the Japanese attack independently and then blended both accounts into one story. For greater realism, Fox wisely chose to exclude top film stars, such as Charlton Heston or John Wayne, and selected a cast of fine character actors for the American and Japanese roles in the film. The American account appears to have been largely drawn from Professor Gordon W. Prange's authoritative history "At Dawn we slept" and does not shy away from depicting the succession of blunders that should have alerted the American armed forces in Hawaii to the approaching danger.

The logistical problems facing the producers were very challenging. When the film was being made in 1970, computer generated images (CGI) had not been invented. No Japanese aircraft dating from 1941 were available except in museums. So Fox converted American Vultee BT-13 and North American AT-6 Texan basic trainers to look like Zeros, Aichi "Val" dive-bombers, and Nakajima Navy Type 97 "Kate" level and torpedo bombers. The effect was so realistic that one WW II Japanese Zero pilot thought the Zeros used in the film were genuine. The Japanese built complete full-scale replicas of Admiral Yamamoto's flagship Nagato and the carrier Akagi on the beach at Ashiya airforce base. Fox built a full scale replica of the battleship USS Arizona mounted on barges. The Fox miniature department built 29 American and Japanese warship models - some as long as 40 feet. The pilots who flew the Japanese aircraft replicas over Hawaii in this film were American. Japanese actors only featured in aircraft close ups.

"Tora! Tora! Tora!" is divided by an intermission into events leading up to Pearl Harbor and the actual attack on Hawaii which has been brilliantly filmed, and unfortunately, resulted in the death of one pilot. I agree completely with the views of film reviewer Leonard Maltin who described the film in these words: "Well-documented screenplay shows major and minor blundering on both sides, then recreates attack with frightening realism. Well-made film creates incredible tension. Oscar-winning special effects." (2008)

The historical context of the film is probably well settled. Tensions between the United States and Japan had been rising since the Japanese attacked China in 1937, and were not helped by the sinking and machine gunning of survivors of the American gunboat USS Panay in the Yangtze River by the Japanese in December 1937. The American government had responded to Japan's brutal and unprovoked aggression against China and occupation of French Indochina by a steadily rising program of economic sanctions including embargoes on oil and other military-related trade. The military-dominated Japanese government had already decided by mid-October 1941 to retaliate by attacking the United States unless the United States submitted to all Japanese demands - removal of all embargoes and a free hand to seize resource-rich countries across East and South-East Asia. The Japanese government knew that the Americans were highly unlikely to submit to Japan's demands. To distract the American government while it secretly positioned a powerful aircraft carrier strike force for a surprise attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at its Pearl Harbor base in Hawaii, the Japanese government ordered its envoys in Washington to engage the Americans in intensive diplomatic discussions related to American concerns about Japan's aggression against China and occupation of French Indo China.

When it comes to historical accuracy, I have a serious problem with the Japanese contribution to the film. The Japanese account contains two major falsifications of history that appear to be intended to mislead viewers by minimising Japan's and Hirohito's war guilt in relation to Pearl Harbor. With the apparent intention of disguising the treacherous nature of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in peacetime and at 8.00 am on a Sunday morning (Hawaii Time), the Japanese producers suggest that Japan intended to submit a 14-part document containing a formal declaration of war to the American Secretary of State, Mr Cordell Hull, at 1.00 pm on December 7 (Washington Time). At 1.00 pm in Washington it would be 7.30 am in Hawaii and half an hour before the Japanese planes were scheduled to strike Pearl Harbor. The film suggests that tendering of this formal "declaration of war" at 1.00 pm was frustrated by decoding and clerical delays in the Japanese embassy in Washington. Such delays may have occurred, but the Japanese document eventually submitted to Secretary of State Hull at 2.20 pm on December 7 (eighty minutes after the first Japanese bomb fell on Hawaii) was not a formal declaration of war. It was not even an ultimatum. It was merely a summary of Japanese grievances and demands, coupled with a blunt announcement that Japan was terminating the lengthy diplomatic negotiations between Ambassador Nomura and Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. On two occasions in the film, Admiral Yamamoto and his staff officers refer to the 14-part document as a "declaration of war" which it clearly was not. Japan formally declared war on the United States several hours after the last Japanese aircraft had returned to its carrier from the smoking ruins of the American battleship fleet at Pearl Harbor.

New evidence of the treacherous nature of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has been revealed by Professor Takeo Iguchi who has spent years combing Japan's foreign ministry archives. Professor Iguchi felt that the Japanese diplomats in Washington had been unfairly blamed for the late arrival on Cordell Hull's desk of the 14-part message breaking off peace talks. Professor Iguchi claims that foreign ministry records reveal that the foreign ministry wanted to tender an ultimatum to Cordell Hull before the Pearl Harbor attack but the Imperial Army insisted that the final message should simply terminate diplomatic negotiations to avoid alerting the United States to its danger. Iguchi claims that foreign ministry records show the military deliberately withheld the final part of the 14-part message to ensure that the translated document would not reach Secretary of State Hull until after Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Professor Iguchi has an interest to serve by clearing the Japanese diplomats of negligence. His father was one of them. But the truth of the claims by Professor Iguchi can be tested by reference to documents that he claims are in Japan's foreign ministry archives.

The Japanese contribution to Tora! Tora! Tora! also falsely represents Emperor Hirohito as a benign figurehead commander of Japan's military who approved the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor because he was powerless to stop it. In a conversation prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor between Prime Minister Konoye and Admiral Yamamoto, Konoye is heard to say: "His Majesty's signature is a mere formality. The Cabinet is responsible for all matters of national policy." Both statements are untrue. Under the Meiji Constitution of 1889, Hirohito could have overridden his cabinet on any issue and refused to authorise the attack on Pearl Harbor had he wanted to do so. The only significant aspect of the added ten minutes for Japanese audiences is a conversation between Admiral Yamamoto and a senior palace official in the Imperial Palace. The palace official falsely represents Hirohito as having been opposed to war with the United States but powerless to stop it. A study of Japanese history, and especially the Meiji Constitution, will reveal that the Meiji Constitution vested full control of the Japanese armed forces in the emperor, and the chiefs of Japan's military reported directly to the emperor and not to the civilian government. The fact that Hirohito was a "hands on" commander in chief with his military attaches active on every Pacific War front and briefing him daily is confirmed by Japan's official history of the Pacific War "Senshi Sosho" and by historian Professor Herbert P. Bix in his authoritative Pulitzer Prize-winning biography "Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan" (2000), especially at pages 327, 329-331, 359, and 387-391.

I hope these historical falsifications contrived by the Japanese producers will not spoil anyone's enjoyment of a film that I still regard as a masterful account of an appalling act of treachery. I deny TTT five stars only because of the falsification of history in the Japanese contribution. I recommend avoiding the 148 minute Japanese release and watching the 138 minute version released originally for American audiences.
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62 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 1999
Many films attempt to tell true stories. One of the few that does justice to its subject is Tora! Tora! Tora!, a full-scale recreation of Pearl Harbor and the events leading up to the Day Of Infamy.
Verisimilitude permeates throughout the film, from the full-sized mockups of Japanese aircraft carriers and the battleship Nagano to the Japanese Zero, Kate, and Val aircraft and American P-40 Warhawk fighters to the miniature and full-sized models of American battleships. Much of the combat footage was shot at Pearl itself and surrounding Air Force bases, while miniature work blends splendidly into the action.
The enormous cast captures the exchanges of ideas and arguments among the various players involved in the attack. The most sympathetic player is Admiral Yamamoto. The film very nicely captures his lack of desire to go to war with an America that could not possibly lose a war with Japan based on the comparative industrial power of both nations. Also captured is the greater bloodthirstiness of fellow Imperial Japanese Navy officers, leading to a chilling scene during final pre-sortie debriefing when Yamamoto orders that the First Air Fleet abort the mission should negotiations with America succeed; fellow officers universally reject such an order, until Yamamoto hisses that any officer unwilling to follow should resign at once.
Also captured are the motions of General Walter Short (Jason Robards) and Admiral Husband Kimmel (Martin Balsam), working to second-guess Japanese intentions minus intelligence data available to US Navy intelligence in Washington. Navy intelligence accurately guesses that intercepted Japanese diplomatic messages indicate Tokyo to be preapring for war, but there is never any indication that Pearl Harbor itself will be attacked.
But it is, and the attack is brilliantly recreated. Battleships are hit by torpedos and bombs, planes parked together to prevent sabotage are slaughtered trying to take off, and the result is the greatest naval disaster suffered by American arms.
But Admiral Yamamoto knows that what will result will be catastrophic for Japan, and the film ends with him staring into the sky - into the future.
For sheer perfection, Tora! Tora! Tora! succeeds.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2000
I first saw this film many years ago when it was a movie of the week on network TV. Like any kid, I was interested in the battle scenes, and by the time I'd graduated with a Communications degree, I dismissed this movie out of hand as a faithful, but unexceptional telling of the Battle of Pearl Harbor.
Mea Culpa!! I finally saw this film in widescreen format, and this movie's artistic value magnified ten-fold. The idea for this film was inspired: an American director would shoot the American scenes telling the USA side of the battle, and a Japanese director would tell the Japanese side of the story. Originally the legendary Akira Kurasowa was hired to direct the Japanese side of the story, but after a falling out, Toshio Masuda ended up directing the Japanese side of the film. Richard Fleischer directed the American sequences.
Fleischer does a fine job, but Masuda is absolutely brilliant. The Japanese side of the story is the more compelling side of the story, but Masuda truly does a masterful job of setting forth scenes of eloquence and power in telling the story of highly motivated people whose actions will doom their country.
Despite truth being stranger than fiction, Hollywood all too often needlessly flushes historical truth down the toilet ("JFK" anyone?). Fortunately, this powerful story is meticulous in its historical accuracy. With a compelling muscial score and great special effects, especially considering the age of this film, this is a film which should appeal to movie lovers and history buffs both.
IMPORTANT!! This is a film which can ONLY be appreciated in widescreen/DVD format. The dogfight sequences, the impressive sets and much of the drama is lost in the version formatted for TV, resulting in the butchering of a masterpiece.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2003
There are not many movies that portray the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as anything but what it was--a carefully planned massive assault on a totally unprepared United States naval base. TORA TORA TORA is not Hollywood's typical war movie that places character exposition at the forefront. Here directors Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku for the Japanese and Richard Fleischer for the United States detail a film that is more documentary than character driven. Yet, despite this sense of hidden-camera reality that focuses on all ranks from admiral to seaman, the actors succeed in infusing the film with a feeling that on both sides there were no heroes or villans. In fact, if there is any villainy, it is not the attacking Japanese who must wear the mantle of evil but rather the slipshod arrogance of those who were entrusted to defend Pearl Harbor against just the kind of annihilation that struck on that Sunday morning in December, 1941. The Japanese side is told primarily through the perspective of Admiral Yamamoto (So Yamamura), who was in overall command of the attack fleet, and Lt. Commander Fuchida (Takahiro Tamura), who was one of the Zero pilots on the first attack wave. Yamamoto is a cautious commander, one who has no political agenda, but is determined to carry out his objective exactly even if it means not taking advantage of unexpected opportunities to wreak further destruction on American ships. He will preserve his fleet above all else. Fuchida has a much more narrow view; when he sees that a second attack wave is needed to finish the job, he is appalled that Yamamoto has instead ordered the fleet to return to Japan. Neither of them is presented as the stereotyped buck-toothed sabre-rattling Jap so often presented in a previous generation's war movie. Each in his own way is strictly business. The American side is anchored by Martin Balsam as Admiral Kimmel and Richard Anderson as Captain Earle. Kimmel is a competent commander who discovers too late that bureaucratic bungling of misguided messages can have the most tragic of consequences. When the attack begins, he is stunned but quickly organizes what defenses he has. The fall guy is Earle, who might have gained a precious few hours of advanced warning had he heeded the implications of frantic radio messages suggesting an attack was imminent. Yet, Earle is a one-dimensional stick man who collectively symbolizes the head-in-the-sand myopia that then afflicted US military intelligence about the oncoming Rising Sun whirlwind.
TORA TORA TORA is a film of rapidly shifting points of view. The first three quarters is a microscopic analysis of the events preceding the attack. The Japanese are seen as supremely confident that they will achieve total surprise. In fact, when the first Zero fighters are in view of Pearl, they are astounded to note that not one shot has been fired at them. An American radar station operator notes that his radar screen shows a massive inflight of unidentified planes, but a call to his superiors results in his being told not to worry. The American fleet and dozens of combat planes are neatly stacked in rows, just waiting to be picked off. The Americans, by contrast, are blithely oblivious to what now seems like unmistakable warnings of looming disaster. In Washington, Japanese ambassadors Nomura (Shogo Shimada) and Kurusu (Hisao Toake) wait patiently outside the door of Secretary of State Cordell Hull, knowing full well what was then occuring on the other end of the world. For the briefest moment, Nomura is seen as a man who is profoundly saddened that he is a forced puppet mouthing words of a futile peace.
All of the behind the scenes style of film making is needed as a segue to the catastrophic air assault on Pearl. The attack, which lasts for an extended thirty minutes, is stunningly effective, even more so than the computer-enhanced graphics of the recent remake with Ben Affleck. Essentially, the Japanese airplanes swoop down and destroy both docked ship and arrayed plane. The return fire is piecemeal. Here and there is a spirited ra-ta-ta by a lone America gunner. The surprise is complete. Three battleships are sunk, and nearly every plane is destroyed on the ground. These scenes of carnage are difficult to watch, yet they serve to remind us that eternal vigilance is needed for a proud country to survive. The dramatic focus of the movie is not on the destruction of the Pacific fleet at all, but surprisingly on the Japanese view of that destruction. The Japanese had intended to declare war first, and then to attack, but a bungling on their part reversed this order. A despondent Admiral Yamamoto concludes the film by noting to his otherwise jubilantly cheering subordinates: "I can hardly imagine a way that is more likely to infuriate the Americans. I fear that all we have done was to awaken a sleeping giant." TORA TORA TORA is unique among war films in that it shows that even in war, there are men of good conscience who are caught up in matters over which they have very little control.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2005
This review is dedicated to the memory
of S1c Robert E. Clarke, from my home town
of Great Bend, Kansas, who was among the men lost
aboard the USS ARIZONA on December 7th, 1941.

I had originally requested a DVD of 2001's "Pearl Harbor" for Christmas this year, but I had a change of heart and requested - and was given - "Tora! Tora! Tora!" instead.

I served in the Navy as a Yeoman at COMSUBPAC Staff on the Pearl Harbor SUBASE in the early 1970s, and had made numerous visits to the USS ARIZONA Memorial during my two-year tour there. I looked down into the water and saw the outline of a once-powerful and proud United States warship. I touched the rusted stump of the ARIZONA's mainmast, to which is welded the flagpole from which the flag is flown every day over the USS ARIZONA Memorial. I read Walter Lord's book "Day Of Infamy" and made myself very familiar with the types and vintages of ships that were in the harbor on December 7th, 1941, and where they were located when the attack took place.

In later years I finally saw "Tora! Tora! Tora!" on TV, and in 2001, when I saw the film "Thirteen Days" in the theaters, it was preceded by the trailer for the movie "Pearl Harbor" - all of which prophetically preceded our generation's own Pearl Harbor on 9-11.

"Tora! Tora! Tora!" stays brilliantly on-topic, as any film about the attack on Pearl Harbor should do, and it goes to great length to stay true to what really happened on the Day That Will Live In Infamy.

Unlike the 2001 film, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" stayed true to the vintage of ships in Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the actual relative locations of those ships in harbor on the day of the attack. There were a couple of glimpses of 1970s frigates in a couple of background shots in "Tora", but these views were forgivably brief, unlike the attempt by the latter film to openly pass 1970s-vintage Navy ships off as pre-World War II warships. Maybe it is because I served in the Navy when those Knox-Class frigates were in service, but the "Continuity break" of "Pearl Harbor" passing them off as Pre-World-War-Two ships just jumped off the screen at me when I watched the 2001 film.

And the famous sortie of the USS NEVADA in her heroic dash towards the open sea, as the one and only battleship to get under way during the attack, was well captured with full accuracy in "Tora! Tora! Tora!" while being completely ignored in the latter film.

To most men in the harbor on December 7th, 1941, the NEVADA's bold drive down the harbor, with the American flag proudly waving from her fantail, was the finest thing they saw that day. One man who saw this remembered that the "Star- Spangled Banner" was written under identical circumstances during the overnight bombarding of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, and he understood better the words of Francis Scott Key.

While Japanese Admiral Yamamoto probably never really uttered that line "I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant, and fill him with a terrible resolve", that line does capture Yamamoto's awareness that the United States was NOT a nation to be attacked without consequences. He knew full well the meaning of "Don't Tread On Me!"

While it covers in detail the multiplicity of errors and blunders in the months, weeks, days, and even hours and minutes leading up to the attack, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" also takes you inside the mind of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, who planned the attack, but, having been in the United States, knew of America's war capability, and of this nation's character.

While Yamamoto's "Sleeping Giant" speech at the end of the film may be apocryphal, it captures his awareness of what Japan was getting itself into. His prediction that he could run rampant in the Pacific for maybe six months to a year after the attack, but could promise no further victory for Japan beyond that, proved true.

In this viewer's opinion, the best war films are always those that blend the points of view from both sides.

"Tora! Tora! Tora!" takes well the sage advice "Know Thy Enemy".

In light of "Tora! Tora! Tora!"'s adherence to historic accuracy throughout the film, it earned that bit of artistic license with Yamamoto's fictional - yet dramatic - "Sleeping Giant" speech.

If you really want a good accurate movie about the attack on Pearl Harbor, make it "Tora! Tora! Tora!".

You'll be glad you did.

Doug Peschka
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2012
Wow..I've watched this movie on DVD for years and was waiting for the Bluray Version. I was so impressed with quality of the is absolutely pristine! This looks like a movie that was just made the past couple years because the video is so clean and clear...It's stunning to think this is a movie from the 70's! Whoever did the bluray transfer should get an award cause it's amazing! I have over 100 Bluray films and this is one of the best in video quality.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" is the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor as told from both the American and Japanese sides in almost a documentary style. The American segments were directed by Richard Fleischer while Kinji Fukasaku ended up replacing Akira Kurosawa for the Japanese segments. Both sides of the story are played out not so much by an all-star cast as a collection of some of these best character actors on both side of the Pacific: Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall, Jason Robards on the one hand, Soh Yamamura, Tatsuya Mihashi and Takahino Tamura on the other. The counter-point between the two sides of the story is quite effective, with the careful planning, preparation and execution of the attack by the Japanese contrasted with the chain of fatal mistakes made by the Americans. As a historical primer on the attack the film covers all of the excruciatingly painful details, from the radar operators dismissing the large incoming blip on their screens to General Marshall out riding his horse at the absolutely worst time, from a stubborn insistence upon "confirmation" of submarine sightings to the fumbling typist in the Japanese embassy trying frantically to complete his final message that must be delivered before the attack begins. E. G. Marshall as Colonel Rufus G. Bratton gets the Cassandra role in this film, the intelligence officer convinced there is going to be an attack but who cannot get anyone to listen to him until it is too late. However, the film is so balanced in its presentation that you cannot help but feel for Ambassador Nomura, who misses the deadline and must still deliver the fatal letter to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. "Tora! Tora! Tora!" certainly achieved its goal of being a film that could be played in both countries without complaints from either side. I find it hard to believe that the upcoming theatrical release of "Pearl Harbor" would even come close to this standard.
This is the first film to focus primarily on the Pearl Harbor attack, with previous efforts using the battle as the start ("In Harm's Way") or the end ("From Here to Eternity") of a more personal journey. "Tora! Tora! Tora!" somewhat disproves the old adage, because not only does it show the "many fathers of success" on the Japanese side, it quite clearly refutes the idea "failure is an orphan" by laying the blame clearly on their American military counterparts. This is by no means a controversial telling of the tale, so you will not find anything suggesting FDR knew about the attack and allowed it to make Americans angry enough to go to war. This is a film purporting to show "what really happened" and leaves notions of heroism up to the audience. In keeping with this approach, the importance of this particular moment in history is underscored not by angry Americans shouting "Remember Pearl Harbor!' but by Admiral Yamamoto's understatement: "I fear all we have down is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
Final note: Several stunt people were killed during the filming of "Tora! Tora! Tora!," and it is difficult to watch some of the stunts involving planes crashing into each other without wondering if what you are seeing is one of the stunts from which someone did not walk away. This is ironically appropriate given the film's subject matter.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2001
Just as I dreaded the prospect of seeing a modern re-make of Psycho, so I dread going to see Pearl Harbor, given the extremely high bar set by its predecessor, Tora Tora Tora. Let me say right at the outset that I consider this one of the best war films ever made. Certainly, it has its weaknesses -- there is not the kind of character development you find in a dramatic film such as From Here to Eternity. Tora Tora Tora is essentially a documentary film, and in that vein it is practically unsurpassed. The technical accuracy is incredible, especially for a film from the days before computer-generated effects. Unlike Pearl Harbor, which attempts to pass off Vietnam-era ships as WWII vintage (promotional shots for the movie show the frigate USS Whipple, commissioned in 1971, being bombed by the Japanese in 1941), the ships in Tora Tora Tora accurately depict the ships that were involved in the attack. They might be miniatures, but at least they're accurate miniatures! And although the Japanese planes are not authentic -- I believe there are only two authentic Zeros still flying in the world today -- the reproduction planes used in the movie are so convincing that they're still being used in vintage airshows today. The sets -- including a full-size mock-up of the Japanese battleship Nagato -- are beautifully executed. And the action sequences are wrenchingly poignant.
Part of the enduring appeal of this movie is its balance in depicting very politically sensitive events. Japanese and American movie makers collaborated on the movie, and as a result the Japanese who participated in the attack are neither glorified nor villified -- just men caught in a momentous historical moment, some enthusiastically and some reluctantly. Nonetheless, the full infamy of the attack is impressed on the viewer. Far better to directly and straight-forwardly address these critical aspects of the attack than to avoid or ignore them, which is what I fear may be the case in Pearl Harbor.
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